15 Rather, living the truth in love, weshould grow in every way into him who is the head, Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, with the proper functioning of each part, brings about the body's growth and builds itself up in love.
Verses 15b-16 sums up 4:11-16, which in the Greek forms one long sentence. The result of “living the truth in love” is that we will grow in every way into him, who is the head, Christ. Maturity, “living the truth in love,” means growing in union with Christ himself. Again, we see there are degrees of unity and maturity.
Christian faith entails an “already” and a “not yet.” Although the Church is already “in Christ,” united to Jesus, there is plenty of room to be more fully united with our Lord, “to grow in every way into him.” Christ, as the head of “the body, the Church” (Col 1:18), is not only over the Church, he is the source from whom the whole body, the Church, derives its growth and flourishing.
The term head can mean either authority or source, as in “the head waters of the Nile.” This body, the Church, is joined and held together by every supporting ligament— other translations say “joint.” These ligaments are the individual members of the Church. They provide structural support for the body, but the Greek word translated “supporting” (also in Col 2:19) suggests that nourishment is part of it. “In this way, the writer pictures the ligaments functioning to provide the connections between the various parts and thereby mediating life and energizing power throughout the body” (Andrew T. Lincoln. Ephesians. Word Biblical Commentary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1990. p 263).
Notice the intensely communal vision of the Church’s nature—the parts are touching one another, fastened together, in a way that supports and energizes the body’s activity. This activity depends, however , on the proper functioning of each part. As in 1 Cor 12:15-21, no part is indispensable. The ministers with gifts of teaching and overall leadership must do their part of equipping “the holy ones for the work of ministry.” So must every other member of the body fulfill their role. This cooperation of Christ and all the members of the body brings about the body's growth and builds itself up in love. The final word of the sentence both in Greek and in English is placed there for emphasis. The Church can only be strengthened if her members conduct their relationships and fulfill their ministries in love.
To summarize, Paul is saying that the goal of the diverse gifts Messiah gives the Church is for ministry that leads to Christ-like maturity in the body as a whole and in its members. This maturity is characterized by a unity in doctrine and in relationship with Christ himself. It entails stability regarding the truth. It involves sincere conduct and love, and it requires that each member of the body of Christ fulfill his or her role of service. If we want to see our local communities and the Church as a whole flourish, these verses tell us how.
Peter Williamson is using his scholarly expertise and pastoral experience to help produce a set of Bible commentaries for use by Catholic clergy and pastoral workers. These will fill something of a vacuum in what is currently available. He is serving as one of the editors for the whole series and an author of several volumes, starting with the book of Ephesians. Let’s join in praying for the fruitfulness of this effort